State budget battle begins in earnest

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Prime Minister Erna Solberg got a taste this week of the state budget battle her government faces this autumn. A united opposition, including her government’s so-called “support parties,” grilled her in Parliament on Wednesday, while her own support party leaders accused her of poor leadership.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg (right) and Finance Minister Siv Jensen face tough weeks ahead, as they battle not only with the opposition over their proposed state budget, but also with their own support parties. PHOTO: NTB Scanpix

Prime Minister Erna Solberg (right) and Finance Minister Siv Jensen face tough weeks ahead, as they battle not only with the opposition over their proposed state budget, but also with their own support parties. PHOTO: NTB Scanpix

Attacks on the conservative government’s budget were expected from the socialist parties like Labour and the Socialist Left (SV), the Greens (MDG) and the Center Party: They accuse the government of giving tax breaks to Norway’s wealthiest and cutting support for many weaker groups, while also blasting the government’s environmental policies. The ferocity of the attacks from her support parties, the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) and the Liberals (Venstre), were far more surprising.

Solberg needs to pacify both KrF and Venstre, first and foremost, because they’re the small centrist parties that made it possible for Solberg to form her minority government made up of her Conservative Party (Høyre) and the more-conservative Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp). KrF and Venstre promised to give the government a majority in Parliament in return for agreements negotiated after last fall’s election that many of their top issues would win favour as well.

Now both KrF and Venstre are accusing Solberg of backtracking on those agreements. They claim the budget presented earlier this month by Solberg’s finance minister, Siv Jensen of the Progress Party, doesn’t provide funding for agreed programs.

‘Extremely irritating’
The two small centrist parties demanded, and thought they’d won, more funding for foreign aid, tax breaks for single-income couples, and additional funding to local government that would allow them to provide more care for the multi-handicapped, for example. The two small parties also want foreign students from outside the EU to be able to study tuition-free at Norwegian colleges and universities, continued funding for overnight facilities for beggars and an increase in “green” taxes aimed at protecting the environment.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported on Thursday that their list of alleged violations of agreements struck last year has provoked them to the point that now they’re threatening to withdraw support given last winter for the government to remove inheritance taxes. “All these new battles we face over issues we thought we settled are extremely irritating,” KrF’s Hans Olav Syversen, who heads the parliament’s finance committee, told DN. “Will we have to take up the inheritance tax battle again, too? We gave in on that.”

Venstre leader Trine Skei Grande claims, meanwhile, that she feels cheated. She reminded Solberg in Parliament on Wednesday that Venstre especially wanted budget support for more environmentally friendly programs and programs to help children in need. She can’t see any reflection of that in the state budget.

Appeased them earlier
Solberg’s government has placated both KrF and Venstre on several other issues throughout the year, not least on the KrF’s demand to change abortion procedures in such a way that tens of thousands took to the streets all over the country to protest. Solberg’s government has also caved in, for example, to KrF’s request to put more emphasis on Christianity as part of Norway’s cultural heritage in the schools. All students already must attend so-called “RLE” classes in religion, life philosophy and ethics. Now the classes will be called “Christianity, religion, life philosophy and ethics.”

Solberg and Finance Minister Jensen continue to support their budget, arguing, among other things, that it follows through on promises to invest in needed infrastructure and eases government fees and other forms of hidden taxes that benefit everyone. Jensen has proudly stated that the budget reflects “a new government with new priorities” and that even the contested cut in tax on net worth will benefit far more than just the country’s wealthiest. Instead of “promoting class differences,” as Labour has claimed, “we’re securing more jobs by cutting taxes for businesses so they can stay in business,” according to Jensen.

Jensen has said she looks forward to negotiations with KrF and Venstre, telling Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) recently that “I’m sure they will be tough negotiations but it’s very important that they put their mark on the budget, too. I’m confident we’ll come to an agreement, with respect for one another.” They need to do so by November 12, before taking a likely modified budget back to the Parliament.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund